On Friday, about 20 Stanford joined a group of 300 people demonstrating on various issues — centered mainly on worker wages and working conditions, as well as the growing income inequality in America — outside of the Mountain View Wal-Mart where President Obama was giving a private speech about climate change.
Students from several groups on campus, including First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP), Pilipino American Student Union (PASU) and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), met at the Wal-Mart in the morning after getting in contact with organizers from the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a non-profit organization that had taken part in the demonstration.
“We were encouraging people to wear Stanford attire,” said Sammie Wills ‘16, who helped coordinate students for the event. “Usually in demonstrations it’s the same narrative with low-wage workers, and the public loses interest in hearing the same thing over and over again. As Stanford students, we should use our privilege to bring awareness to these issues.”
Despite the fact that the President’s exclusive speech was held inside the store, demonstrators marched through adjacent parking lots and around the blockaded Wal-Mart parking lot. The blockades prevented protesters from getting within shouting distance of the storefront or the President.
“Even if Obama didn’t directly talk to the protestors and demonstrators, it’s really valuable to make sure that the voice of Wal-Mart workers is reflected — for example in press coverage of the event — and reflected in the experience of the people that went to see Obama,” said Emma Hartung ‘17, a member of Stanford’s Student and Labor Alliance (SALA) who had attended the morning demonstration. “We must keep the message coming that people do care about these issues and that people will hold Obama accountable to his words about income equality.”
Demonstrators also criticized the President for choosing to highlight Wal-Mart as an example of corporations that emphasize sustainability and alternative energy. The President’s speech announced 300 public and private sector commitments to increase the use of alternative energies.
Some demonstrators suggested that Wal-Mart’s sustainability record was less than stellar. Ultimately, though, the protesters’ main aim was to stand with the workers of Wal-Mart.
“I wanted to help show solidarity for low-wage workers outside of the Stanford community,” Hartung said. “And I think it was a really good opportunity for us to show our support and solidarity for folks working to improve working conditions in the Bay Area and nationally.”
Wills said that she was pleased with the Stanford turnout and expected further Stanford involvement in the surrounding community.
“I sent out this email on Wednesday night, and it was amazing that we were able to gather that many people in that amount of time,” Wills said. “People always complain about the Stanford bubble but there’s always opportunities to go off campus … and there’s a diversity of low-income communities to get involved with. [Going to protest at Wal-Mart] is a great show of that and hopefully people build off of that momentum.”
Catherine Zaw contributed to this article.
Contact Andrew Vogeley at avogeley ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.